Top Center Fielders in Baseball (MLB) History

It's a demanding position, one that demands speed and a good arm. And some of the greatest players of all-time have played there. A look at the top 10 center fielders in baseball history:

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Willie Mays

Willie Mays at Ba

New York/San Francisco Giants (1951-72), New York Mets (1973)

If Mays were coming up today, he'd be called a five-tool player and would be the No. 1 pick in every fantasy draft. He hit for average and power, stole bases, chased down everything in center field and had a great arm. Mays was the 11th black play in MLB history when he came up at age 19 with the Giants. and won a championship with the Giants in 1954 after coming back from a stint in the Army. He was NL MVP that year, hitting .345 with 41 homers. He was also MVP in 1965 (.317, 52 HR). A lifetime .302 hitter, at the time of his retirement he was third on the all-time home run list with 660, behind only Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979.

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Joe DiMaggio

New York Yankees (1936-51)

Want to start an argument among Yankees fans? Ask who was the best center fielder in team history. Most will probably say DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper. He was the biggest star of his day, and he made it look easy. His 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is a revered record, one of the most unbreakable records of all-time. He played just 13 seasons - he missed three seasons because of World War II - and was an All-Star in every one of those seasons. He won three MVP awards (1939, 1941 and 1947) and led the league in homers twice. He drove in 167 runs at age 22 in 1938. He finished his career with a .325 average and an incredible nine World Series titles.

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Ty Cobb

Detroit Tigers (1905-26), Philadelphia A's (1927-28)

Cobb, who hit a major-league record .367 in his career, jumps out on the list, but he's not remembered as much as a center fielder. But he had a great arm, leading the league in assists early in his career and second all-time in assists and double plays among outfielders. But his legacy is his hitting and his surly behavior. He led the AL in batting a record 11 times, all in a span of 13 seasons, when he hit better than .400 three times, including .420 in 1911. He was the top vote-getter in the first Hall of Fame ballot in 1933, over Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner.

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Mickey Mantle

New York Yankees (1951-68)

Another Yankees center fielder, another three-time MVP. Mantle was the biggest star of the 1950s, the centerpiece of a team that won seven championships. He overlapped DiMaggio by one season, then took over for him in center field in 1952. He hit for average and power, had extraordinary speed and generally considered the best switch-hitter in baseball history. He hit 536 home runs in his career, batted .298 and holds World Series records in home runs (18), RBI (40), runs (42) and walks (43). And his career numbers could have been even more spectacular if it weren't for myriad injuries and a reputation for carousing.

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Ken Griffey Jr.

Seattle Mariners (1989-99, 2009-10), Cincinnati Reds (2000-08)

Perhaps the biggest star of the 1990s was destined to greatness as the son of a major league player. He was the first pick in the 1987 draft, arrived in the majors for good at age 19 on April 3, 1989, and hit 633 career home runs, fifth on the all-time list at the time of his retirement. He's credited with saving a flagging franchise in Seattle before taking his talents back to his hometown of Cincinnati. Griffey hit 56 home runs each in 1997 and 1998 and won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. He seemed destined to break all the home run records, but injuries marked much of his stint with the Reds. He finished with a .284 career average.

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Tris Speaker

Boston Americans/Red Sox (1907-15), Cleveland Indians (1916-28), Washington Senators (1927), Philadelphia A's (1928)

A .345 career hitter, Speaker, led the Red Sox to two championships (1912, 1915) and the Indians to another (1920) after being traded in a salary dispute with Boston. Playing the best years of his career in the dead-ball era, he never had more than 17 home runs in a season, and that came at age 35. He won just one batting title (.386 in 1916), playing in virtually the same era as Cobb.  As a center fielder, he played incredibly shallow, even getting unassisted double plays on line drives up the middle. Cobb considered him the best player he ever played with.

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Duke Snider

Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers (1947-62), New York Mets (1963), San Francisco Giants (1964)

As the song goes, it was Willie, Mickey, and the Duke, all center fielders in New York at the same time. And while Snider was listed third and is third among those players on the list, he's still in the top 10 all-time. His rookie season was the same as Jackie Robinson's, but he wasn't an everyday player until 1949. Snider wasn't as flashy as Mays, nor as powerful as Mantle, but he was consistent. He finished among the top three in the NL in batting average, slugging, hits, runs, RBI, doubles, triples, home runs, total bases, and stolen bases in his career, and hit better than 40 homers in five consecutive seasons from 1953-57. He hit 407 career homers.

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Kirby Puckett

Minnesota Twins (1984-95)

Puckett was the centerpiece of two World Series-winning teams in his short, 12-year career that was ended by glaucoma. He hit .318 in his career and had more hits in his first 10 years (2,040) than any player in the 20th century. He also hit for power, with 207 career homers, and was a 10-time All-Star who won a batting title in 1989. He starred in the postseason, making a famous leaping catch and a game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. The Twins won the World Series in seven games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2001.

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Oscar Charleston

Negro Leagues (1915-41)

Don't know who he is? Baseball historians certainly do. Bill James' historical abstract called him the fourth-best player of all-time. Considered the Ty Cobb of the Negro Leagues, he hit .353 in his career according to Baseball Library and was the all-time Negro League leader in stolen bases. He also, like Cobb, was known for his competitiveness and his temper. He was the manager of the Negro League's greatest team - the Pittsburgh Crawfords of the 1930s - and hit .446 in 1921. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1976.

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Earl Averill

Cleveland Indians (1929-39), Detroit Tigers (1939-40), Boston Braves (1941)

Averill's career was relatively short, as he didn't break into the majors until age 27. That's one reason it took him 34 years until he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975. He hit the first of his 238 career home runs in his first at-bat and had a career average of .318. He hit .378 in 1936.